The Oxford Murders

08/30/2011 at 12:54 PM (Books, Crime, Mystery) (, , , , , , , )

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez was actually an interesting book despite its tendency to go into explanations of mathematical theory using formulae that was gibberish to me. For a book that talked heaps about math, it was enjoyable. I may have worked in the past as a supermarket cashier but this algebraic equations stuff was forgotten quickly after high school. We are introduced to a young protagonist, a Spanish scholarship student who is undertaking a mathematics PhD in London. He’s lodging with an old woman, a war veteran widow, who is suffering from cancer and her pretty carer, the violinist Emily. He has barely settled in when the old woman is murdered.

He arrives at the murder scene at the same time as another famous mathematician residing in London. The two come to the conclusion the work is characteristic of a serial killer who is trying to commit “imperceptible murders” and advances this theory to the police. They too try to predict the pattern of the murders on their own by studying mathematic patterns and reading up on psychological profiles. In the middle of this is the story about Fermat’s Theorem being solved by Andrew Wiles (who actually spent 25 years on it by the way). What is funny is that I finished reading The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson recently and it also tells us the story of Fermat’s Theorem as an anecdote. This French mathematician is a popular fellow in the literary world.

oxford-murders-book

To get back to the crux of it, there are three more murders but the fourth doesn’t fit the pattern. It turns out there is a connection at the hospital where his girlfriend works to a father, who’s a bus driver, waiting for his kid to receive a kidney transplant. He has been mentally affected by the necessity of Christians to have a full body for burial to preserve their souls. When our main character realises how far a parent would go for their child, he realises the truth about who the real murderer is and manages to figure out who “committed” the ensuing murders. If you are interested, there is also a movie based on the book starring Elijah Wood. I thought it was funny I read this book at the time of this Google Doodle.

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The Hotel Albatross

08/25/2011 at 2:32 AM (Australian Literature, Books) (, , )

The Hotel Albatross was an interesting book with a funny and moving plot. I picked it at random off the library shelf because I liked the conversational tone of the first page. When I choose reading material, the cover or blurb isn’t enough information; I need to know what form the in-text will take. It’s about the running of a hotel and pub in an old Australian outback country town. I used to think running a hotel would be a sexy job in hot demand but the picture this book paints about the hotel management business is bleak. Still the way in which Debra Adelaide, author of The Household Guide to Dying, writes has a certain charm which sustains your interest.

The Hotel Albatross Book Cover

It is mainly about two characters, the Captain and his wife, who find themselves in charge of the hotel after taking on temporary ownership due to mismangement by its previous racist owner. So they find themselves running the place by accident and their endeavours to sell it rarely succeed. The Captain takes care of breaking up fights in the hotel bar, chatting to patrons and dealing with the arising tensions between the indigenous people and the Caucasians. It is told from the perspective of the wife though who takes on the role of housekeeper and when kitchen or bar staff fail to show up for work, either as cook or bartender. She has to sort out decorations for weddings while making sure to satisfy each family member, smooth the ruffled feathers of less than happy staff members and deal with the unhygienic habits of a disgusting customer that brings on a rat infestation. She dreams of escaping to somewhere else where she can avoid the routine.We are treated to eccentric caricatures of the staff and the guests at the hotel and it is this odd cast which makes the story really poignant despite it’s lack of linear structure.

We have the raffle ticket selling waitress Bev, a stubborn and belligerent but good-hearted woman; the ingenious cook who used leftovers to make mouth-watering fare; the pianist doctor who liked playing melancholy pieces and drove away customers; Shirley, who manages the working-class bar and the sultry cocktail waitress Gloria who feels her talents at pouring drinks are of little use at the Galley, the bar mainly patronised by gay men. All this is intertwined with the politics of life in a rural Australian town and how this sometimes clashes with human nature which is always seeking instant gratification. Meanwhile the introduction of bottle shops is causing problems for their country pub. The author provides us with insight into what it is like managing the Hotel Albatross depicting how stressful and tiring it is but at the very end what seems like a very calamitous and heartbreaking misfortune actually also brings the Captain and his tired wife some welcome respite.

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Books I Disliked Reading

08/23/2011 at 5:17 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Movies, Romance, Romantic Comedy) (, , , , , , )

So far, I’ve reviewed books that I have enjoyed and liked but unlike most, I do slog through books that I don’t like as well. If I start reading a book, I need to finish it even if it’s awful. Getting things completed is a trait of mine – I don’t like to leave it hanging. For the same reason, I don’t like to watch a film I’ve decided to watch if all I missed was only the first five minutes. Here’s a few I found very hard to get through with patience.

 One Night at the Call Centre

One Night @ the Call Centre

This is a humorous tale by Chetan Bhagat about the events of a night at a call centre and the intersecting lives of six characters who are coworkers in a special team: Shyam Singh, Priyanka, Esha, Radhika, Vroom and Military Uncle. The first five have to pretend they are in Boston and speak with adopted fake American accents to Americans who have problems with their dishwashers, washing machines and computers using a set of scripted answers. Military Uncle deals with the emails as he does not like to talk much. Each have issues of their own.

Shyam is in love with Priyanka but has no self-confidence to stand up to their cruel, cowardly, manipulative and cunning boss Bakshi who has no issues crediting their work as his own. Vroom used to be a journalist but decided to work at the call centre for money while dealing with the stress of his parents’ separation. Priyanka struggles with her mother’s inability to accept someone less than settled for her and her wanting to get her married to Ganesh, a Microsoft employee raking in a six-figure salary. Esha compromises her morals while looking for a modelling contract as she’s an inch too short which pisses of Vroom who is in love with her. Military Uncle struggles with family conflicts as his son objects to him contacting his grandson while Radhika who patiently obeys all that her nasty mother-in-law demands finds out her husband has been having an affair and resorts to anti-depression pills. They decide to cut a shift at work one day and when they find themselves in peril, a call from God comes to the rescue and advise to heed their inner calling.

The cast is inspired to get rid of their boss and find solutions to their personal problems. This is where the story falls apart at the seams. The book starts out with the visit of a mysterious woman on a train who boards the carriage of the author and then before telling the story demands that her story is the next book he writes who is nowhere to be found after he falls asleep. Then as the book ends with the author asking who she is in the story’s cast, she denies being any of the women leaving an improbable explanation. Maybe it was supposed to be inspiring but that was a very cliché, cheap copout for me. Meanwhile bossy love interest Priyanka was not likeable at all – I wanted her to be run over by a truck.  I cheered for Shyam when he rejected her but as he crawled back to her like the subservient dog he was to her, I felt ashamed for him. It could’ve been made into a good but cheesy Bollywood movie though, which it was, but Hello failed miserably at the box office due to bad film editing.

Sex and the City

Sex and the City book

The TV show is a raging success right at portraying the lives of catty, biting fashionista snobs with man issues in New York, right? At least that’s what the book was about which is why I am confused about the show being so popular. Disclaimer: I don’t watch the TV show myself. From what I write about in my blog, you can see my tastes are different. I hope this book by Candace Bushnell is satire. It has really made me disillusioned with New York. Good thing I’m more of an Europe fan. I’ve seen the movies – the first was just eh and the second was populated with racist stereotypes which ended up with the Middle Eastern women paying homage to Western culture through designer clothing and to these rich, snobby, self-obsessed bitches. Yeah, avoid picking it up if you can unless the adjectives I used above regarding the empty characters without any friends don’t give off warning bells. It’s not told through the eyes of Carrie, by the way, so if you’re a show fan, I would also give the book a miss too as it’s a collection of articles. After reading, I identified with nobody and disliked everyone. The tagline ‘Jane Austen with a Martini’ is a complete and utter lie.

The Man Who Loved Children

The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

Given the fact it boldly stated that it had an introduction written by Jonathan Franzen, I tried to enjoy it but the dialogue was a real enjoyment killer. I’m not a fan of inflected dialect in books which decides to erase the letter H from the vocabulary. But I persevered and finished the book reading the story about a vile and neglectful self-indulgent father (apparently based on the author’s real father), an incompetent baby machine mother, a long-suffering aunt and several ill-used children. I’m sorry, Christina Stead but reading this was laborious and therefore it gave me no pleasure even if you came up with this tale of tedious family life in the 1940s. But for you at least, Jonathan Franzen likes your work enough to recommend it and so have many others who rediscovered you. So other readers may actually like it even if I don’t. So pick it up if your tolerance for reading dialect in prose is much better than mine.

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Homage to World Photography Day through Open House Weekend

08/19/2011 at 9:38 AM (Architecture, Art, Design, Photography) (, , , , , , , , , )

On the 30th and 31st of July in Melbourne, we had a special event called Open House Weekend. It unlocks buildings of our city so you can access them on those days only. We are allowed into these spaces with guides providing insights into the importance of these buildings whether it’s significance is being of historical importance, engineering based feat or architectural design. For myself, I only had the Saturday free to  explore so I made it to the six buildings featured below.  As today is August 19th here, World Photography Day, I thought I’ll share some special photos of Melbourne, as it’s my part of the world.

The Origin Roof Garden

Copyright: Sarasi Peiris

This was my first port of call. After wandering like a lost tourist up and down the road several times, I found the queue for this in Flinders Lane. This was designed by Jamie Durie (who’s of Sri Lankan descent like me) after his team were inspired by the trend which included forming of green spaces within urban centres. The lucky employees at Origin use this private garden in the sky to enjoy yoga, tai chi and other activities.

Myer Mural Hall

The Mural Hall inside Myer Department Store

Copyright: Sarasi Peiris

This was my fourth stop all the way in Bourke St. It is located on the 6th floor of the retail giant Myer. It is a huge hall designed to hold 550 people with walls decorated with large murals, depicting women through the ages, painted by artist Napier Waller. The murals which were painted at Waller’s studio at Fairy Hills in Ivanhoe and then brought to Melbourne took one whole year to complete. The dining room is significant because this is a rare and intact example of Streamline Moderne style department store dining room in Australia.

RMIT Storey Hall

The Storey Hall RMIT Exterior

Copyright: Sarasi Peiris

This is a very striking example of Melbourne architecture because of how dominant the colour green is here. It is because it used to be called the Hiberian Hall. Irish Catholics felt ignored by the Protestant population in Melbourne because they were  denied access to the largest public halls for meetings. So they built this hall in 1887 . It was used for pacificist and anti-conscription rallies during WWI and used as a commune during the General Strike of 1917.

Pixel

The Pixel Office Building

Copyright: Sarasi Peiris

The Pixel Building, which is named after its attention-grabbing pixellated exterior facade, is now where the former Carlton United Brewery used to be. This building of four storeys which was designed by Studio 505 cost a cool 6 million dollars. It uses wind turbines on the roof and employs a grey water recycling system with reed beds on each level.  It aims to become Australia’s first carbon neutral office building.

Melbourne City Baths

The Melbourne City Baths Exterior

Copyright: Sarasi Peiris

In early Melbourne, municipal baths were necessary as private houses had little in the way of private bathing facilities. Built in the early part of the 20th century, this is a distinctive Edwardian Baroque building which was designed by architect JJ Clark. If you look at the signage at the City Baths, you will see on the exterior of the building that there were separate entrances for men and women. On the second floor, there’s a balcony which features historical photographs of times past and you can see the men’s pool from the balcony.

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria Water Fountain

Copyright: Sarasi Peiris

The NGV was designed by Roy Grounds, an Australian architect. It was the first major public building to be constructed in Victoria in the fifty years following WWI and the first new art gallery to be constructed in Australia after WWII. It features an abstract ceiling of multicoloured glass by artist Leonard French, which really took a beating during the hailstorms. The entire building is surrounded by a moat. The water feature at the entry, where water flows down a glass screen, called the Water Wall is your first glimpse of interior art.

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Little Dorrit (Film)

08/16/2011 at 11:43 AM (Books, Classics, Mystery, Romance, TV) (, , , , , , , )

I have been a little distracted as I’ve been catching up on reading a lot – think I read about eight books in the past week (look forward to more book reviews). But I did manage to find some time to watch Little Dorrit directed by Adam Smith – starring Claire Foy and Matthew MacFadyen – based on the novel by Charles Dickens. Given her timid personality, ‘Little Doormat’ could have been considered more appropriate nomenclature.

Little Dorrit was born in the Marshalsea, a debtor’s prison after her father’s business failed and he was unable to pay off his creditors. Born a gentleman, Mr. Dorrit can’t stand being so low in regard and manages to cultivate a position as the father of the Marshalsea with the aid of the head turnkey, Mr. Chivery (senior). His son, John, is in love with Little Dorrit although her real name is Amy. Her older sister, the snobbish and beautiful Fanny, has a job as a dancer at the theatre while her idle brother, Frederick, is a young wastrel who keeps on losing his positions due to gambling and laziness. Amy finds employment as a seamstress at the old dilapidated mansion called the House of Clennam, run by a cold-hearted, grumpy, paraplegic matriarch called Mrs. Clennam, despite her father’s objections that she is a lady and should not have to work. Meanwhile Mrs. Clennam’s son Arthur returns bearing a gold pocket watch and a message – Do Not Forget. His father has requested this as his final wish before his death. Perplexed Arthur asks his mother about the mystery but is cruelly turned away when he discloses that he does not wish to be involved in managing the family business. Before leaving, Arthur notices Amy and wishing to do her some kindness makes some enquiries about her present situation and what can be done for her.

In contrast, we have two side stories which connect with the above plot. One involves the Meagles family who have a beautiful, young daughter of marriageable age. She also has an adopted sister, a coloured child, named Harriet but she is called Tattycoram by the family. Their natural daughter has felt an attachment to Mr. Gowan, an artist, and despite their efforts to unite her with the good-hearted Arthur Clennam, they do not succeed. Meanwhile Harriet feels ill-treated by the family as she’s asked to fetch things, perform tasks and in frustration turns to the mysterious Miss Wade, who seems to be present every time Harriet feels anger at the way she is treated, for friendship. The Meagles do not like this as Miss Wade is widely perceived as someone with a bad influence. We realise this when it turns out she even associates with a French murderer by the name of Rigaud (played by Andy Serkis of LOTR‘s Gollum fame) who gives her some possessions to keep regarding Little Dorrit and her inheritance as well as the truth about the birth of Arthur Clennam so he can blackmail Arthur’s “mother”, Mrs. Clennam.

Little Dorrit book cover image

Rigaud escapes from his prison cell with Italian inmate, John Cavaletto. He takes the name Rainier and commits another murder, a barmaid. He makes the acquaintance of Flintwinch who has decided to disobey his mistress, Mrs. Clennam, and obtains the copies of documents stating the truth about the events of the past. Flintwich has lied to his mistress about destroying the documents but her old maid, Affrey, hears it all and when he discovers her spying, she is threatened. Meanwhile Cavaletto escapes the company of Rigaud and finds a residence at the home of a kind-hearted family who is always being squeezed for rent by Mr. Pancks but we discover someone completely different is the true manipulator.

Arthur employs Mr. Pancks as an investigator and finds that Mr. Dorrit is heir to a fortune. So the Dorrits resume a life of cultivation but ashamed of his past, Mr. Dorrit cuts his connections to the prison and wishes his children also do so. This includes the Chiveries, Arthur Clennam and Maggie, a dimwitted woman-child who likes to eat a lot. Used to being a caring, motherly person, Amy finds the adjustment to a life of leisure difficult unlike the others and keeps communicating with Arthur in secret as she knows he has done a great deal on behalf of her family. She also makes an acquaintance with the Gowans as she realises who Mrs. Gowan could have been. In any case, she’s in love with him while he is getting over Mr. Gowan getting married to the girl he loved. She is rebuked by her father constantly causing her much unhappiness as she used to be his favourite child, mostly due to the influence of Mrs. General, the formal etiquette trainer. Frederick, her father’s musician brother is regarded in the same manner as Amy due to their uncultivated mannerisms. Fanny, on the other hand, thrives and makes a union with the fool Edward Sparkler, a fool she can rule over with her iron thumb much to the irritation of her mother-in-law, Mrs. Merdle, who had scorned her when she was poor. Meanwhile Mr. Dorrit makes a trip to England to invest his capital in the bank belonging to Mr. Merdle and Mr. Clennam who has since become a partner with Mr. Doyce, an engineer who is having trouble finding investors as he is a foreigner, decides to put the company capital into the bank to gain interest on the advice given by Mr. Meagles and Mr. Pancks while Doyce goes off to Russia to develop his inventions. Mr. Dorrit returns to Italy (after giving a not so cordial reception to John Chivery who had the audacity to visit him even after his proposal had been rejected by Amy when she was poor) but his trip to England has unbalanced his mind and after returning to Italy, he embarrasses himself in public and finds peace in death. So does his brother, Frederick.

When Mr. Merdle commits suicide after borrowing a penknife from Fanny, it turns out that the bank was conducting major fraud by embezzling and shuffling the funds of different depositors. The tables turn for Fanny’s mother-in-law as she finds herself at the mercy of her daughter-in-law. Meanwhile Little Dorrit finds peace again in her poverty because she can start taking care of others again. She finds Arthur Clennam at the debtor’s prison and the roles are reversed when Rigaud entrusts her with the truth. Arthur’s mother makes a miraculous recovery to get up from her wheelchair and after telling the truth to Little Dorrit herself asks for forgiveness which she does and dies. Meanwhile the House of Clennam tumbles down taking Rigaud to his maker but Flintwich and Affrey escape. Amy explains the mystery to Arthur and when she explains that she has no fortune any more like him, the insensible fellow is happy to accept her love. But then Doyce returns bearing no ill will and best of all, good news.

Meanwhile Pancks has his revenge on the man who posed as a figure of benevolence while being crafty in secret, the father of Arthur Clennam’s childhood sweetheart, Flora. The Meagles family tell Henry Gowan’s mother what they really think of her son and Tattycoram returns with the documents that were in the possession of Miss Wade after discovering them. So we have a happy ending for ‘Little Doormat’, sorry I meant Little Dorrit.

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Stealing Picasso

08/10/2011 at 4:38 PM (Art, Australian Literature, Books) (, , , , )

Stealing Picasso is an interesting Australian book about the world of artists. While I have some knowledge of the subject history, by no stretch of the imagination can I say that I am a connoisseur. As the title obviously states, it’s about stealing a Picasso painting – from the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) no less. The theft is carried out by a promising student, Harry, who owes money to a curator who helped him with his first exhibition in cahoots with his disillusioned art teacher, Turton Pym, who has given up on being an art genius and has decided he would mould budding geniuses instead. Things start spiralling out of control as soon as Harry meets the beautiful Miriam, an art buyer who is able to appreciate art unlike the ignorant masses.

He asks her to come see his first gallery exhibition where he has paintings inspired by the artistry of Picasso and the psychology of Freud. She does attend and what’s more, she buys the painting he thinks is deserving of having pride of place in a private collection. Unfortunately, Miriam had lied about her profession so her cheque bounced leaving Harry, a poor art student with a debt he cannot possibly pay. Most of the book revolves around a painting titled The Weeping Woman; a portrait of model Dora Maar, Picasso’s lover. Harry had promised Miriam a reward for buying his art – a secret midnight picnic near the painting with his teacher. So far the only people who had been privy to this experience were Harry and Turton. His teacher is first hostile about sharing The Weeping Woman with a stranger but after meeting Miriam, is entranced with her beauty. She discovers Turton has a secret passion – drawing cartoons of beasts on the motorcycles of a bikie gang lead by Larry Skunk. When she openly admires his handiwork realising the extent of his talent, it takes only a little on her part to persuade him to create a convincing forgery of the Dora Maar portrait and steal the real one. They decide they will steal the painting under the name Australian Cultural Terrorists and makes the news of the theft public through the newspapers when officials are slow to discover a Picasso is missing.

Stealing Picasso book cover

Enter into the scene, Marcel, a professional Michael Jackson impersonator who has had surgery to even look like the singer himself. Unfortunately this is set in the time where MJ was accused of being a child molester and this has a negative impact on Marcel’s chosen career. Oddly, he is a regularly painted subject by no other than Turton Pym. Marcel is forced into prostitution to earn income although he is conflicted. Sometimes he is roughed up by opportunists. By chance, he is introduced to Larry Skunk, who provides him with protection but this introduction ultimately leads to the downfall of all three when Marcel decides he will sell a forgery by Turton Pym to a biker for 30,000 dollars after the “real deal” has already been sold to an unscrupulous individual, Laszlo, for one million. When both owners of the paintings decide to sell it to the same customer to pay their debts, a barrister who reveals the existence of the other painting to the biker, all hell breaks loose.

In the midst of all this, Miriam drops a bombshell on Harry which reveals her motivations for deciding to sell the painting to Laszlo, who had outsmarted them. They find themselves in a quandary. If they reveal the true painting to the public secretly, Laszlo would send thugs after them but if they kept it, they would be hunted by the police. They decide it must be returned for public viewing but unfortunately not without some tragic consequences.

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Marvellous Miyazaki: Part II

08/09/2011 at 11:55 AM (Movies) (, , , , , , , )

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki's delivery service

In the opening scene, we meet Kiki who is taking off for the big city with her talking companion, a black cat called Jiji. Kiki is a 13-year-old witch in training. She lives in a village where her mother is the herbalist. When witches reach the age of 13, it is traditional for them to live on their own for a year. She decides to live in Koriko, a city near the seaside.  Her insecurity poses problems for her in finding good friends and a decent place to stay. This difficulty is compounded by the fact she’s not quite adept at the art of flying her broom. To support herself, she establishes a delivery service.

Kiki experiences some complications – both in her job and  her emotional state. Tombo, a boy crazy about aviation, pursues her as he likes her and respects the fact she can fly.  But due to an unfortunate meeting with his friends who had created an unfavourable impression on her previously leads to loss of her flying power and her ability to talk with Jiji. She is devastated but her friend Ursula, an artist living in a forest cottage, identifies her inability as akin to “artist’s block.” It’s a reflection of Kiki’s increasing lack of confidence in herself, as things don’t keep going to plan. When she finds a suitable purpose, she will get herself out of this quandary. Feeling a bit happier, Kiki returns to the city and finds an opportunity to rescue Tombo. Her desire to save him reactivates her powers.

This story is actually based on a book by author Eiko Kadono but the screenplay credits goes to Miyazaki. The episodic novel is more about the people who meet Kiki during her delivery service and her interactions with them. Dramatic and climatic moments in the film are due to Miyazaki’s input. This was actually an enjoyable movie but without a lot of subtext.

My Neighbour Totoro

My Neighbour Totoro

My Neighbour Totoro is a film that can capture young and old alike with its innocence. Satusuke and Mei move to a house in the country with their father in order to be closer to their mother who is recovering from a long illness in hospital. They discover the house is populated by house spirits and the garden by forest spirits. These magical creatures are called Totoros (pronounced toe-toe-ro). They befriend these Totoros, and have lovely adventures including on the Catbus, a character reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat. For me, this film was like an animated Japanese version of Alice in Wonderland. To tell the truth, Hayao Miyazaki originally conceived the characters Satsuki and Mei as a single girl. The original girl had features of both Satsuki and Mei, and was 7: halfway between the ages of Satsuki (10) and Mei (4). Given Miyazaki is a big fan of Lewis Caroll, perhaps he drew inspiration from the book. But this is no adaptation as a substantial amount of Japanese folklore is inserted into the film. Totoro is so well recognised that Toy Story 3 paid it homage by including it among Molly’s toys. When Satsuke scolds her little sister Mei, the youngster decides to journey to the hospital by herself to make her mother better and Totoro accompanies her to keep her safe from harm.

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind

Nausicaa

Nausicaa, the princess of a small pocket of humanity on Earth in the distant future, lives in a world that was subject to the “Seven Days of Fire”. The place where she lives is called Valley of the Wind. Instead of trying to destroy the Toxic Jungle, she tries to understand it by making her best effort to stop warring nations from destroying themselves. She realises they keep contributing to the spread of polluted wastelands and is keeping the world from the only means by which it can be saved.

The US released an entirely different film in video under the title Warriors of the Wind borrowing heavily from this plot in the mid 1980s. The heavy editing was done unbeknownst to Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. He was unhappy with the changes to the story which was based on his graphic novel and counselled those who have seen it “to dismiss it from [their] minds.”

For me, this was an OK film – there are Studio Ghibli produced, Miyazaki directed ones far more preferable. The plot didn’t engage me as much but then I enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro which uses different settings. Most of the time, I dislike the futuristic flying object based ones even if those are trademarks for Miyazaki. I think what this shows is my preference for fantasy over science-fiction.

Ponyo

Ponyo

Ponyo (or rather, Brunhilde) is a goldfish princess who decides to see more of the world by riding away on the back of a jellyfish. She is discovered and rescued by a human boy called Sosuke. While he is helping her, he cuts his hand. Ponyo licks his wound which heals instantly. The boy promises to protect her forever. Meanwhile Ponyo’s father, Fujimoto, is looking for her and believing she has been kidnapped by humans, he sends wave spirits in search of her. The wave spirits take Ponyo away, leaving Sosuke heartbroken and unable to be cheered up by his mother, Lisa. Meanwhile Fujimoto and Ponyo fight when she declares she wants to be human because she’s in love with Sosuke.(Little Mermaid reference?) Suddenly she gets her wish, a consequence of swallowing Sosuke’s human blood. Fujimoto summons her mother, Granmamare. After becoming human, Ponyo releases a lot of magic into the ocean creating a huge natural imbalance that precipitates a tsunami. She visits Sosuke, riding the waves of the resulting storm. Ponyo, Sosuke and Lisa wait out the storm and on the next morning, Lisa visits the nursing home where she works to check the residents are okay.

Sosuke’s father sees Grandmamare on her way to visit Fujimoto and recognises her as the Goddess of Mercy. Ponyo’s father notes the moon has been displaced and satellites are falling like shooting stars creating chaos. Granmamare declares that if Sōsuke can pass a test, Ponyo can live as a human and the world order will be restored to its former state. If he fails, Ponyo will turn into sea-foam. On waking, Sōsuke and Ponyo find the land around the house is submerged. As Lisa has not returned, using Ponyo’s  magic, they make Sōsuke’s toy boat life-sized and set out to find her.

After finding Lisa’s empty car, Ponyo and Sōsuke go through a tunnel. There Ponyo loses her human form and turns back into a fish. They are taken by Fujimoto into the ocean and down to the protected nursing home where they are reunited with Lisa and meet Granmamare, both of whom have just had a private conversation. Granmamare asks Sōsuke if he can love Ponyo whether she is a fish or human. Sōsuke answers that he “loves all the Ponyos.” Granmamare then allows Ponyo to become human again once he kisses her on the surface. This was a cute movie but is geared toward the young ones.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Laputa

This is about a floating city by the name of Laputa (yes, it is a reference to Jonathan Swift’s city in Gulliver’s Travels) which is obscured by a violent thunderstorm. It is said such flying cities existed in large numbers but after a huge disaster, survivors were forced to live on the ground again except for those on Laputa. We meet Sheeta, a girl who is being escorted by agents under the command of Colonel Muska.  The airship they are on are attacked by a group of sky pirates – Dola and her three sons. In the commotion, Sheeta takes a pendant from Muska and escapes. She is seen by an apprentice miner called Pazu and he takes her to his home.

At Pazu’s home, she sees a photo of Laputa. Pazu’s father, an airship pilot, had taken it before he had passed on but his story was never believed by those who heard it. Pazu believes the city exists and wants to find it. Here they are interrupted again by the sky pirates but they find refuge in an abandoned mine shaft thanks to Sheet’s pendant. In the mines, they meet Uncle Pom. He tells them about “volucite” – the crystal that keeps Laputa floating in the sky. This is where we realise the significance of that pendant. Pazu and Sheeta are split up by army soldiers who imprison them in a fortress once they reach the surface after she reveals a secret to him about inheriting a secret name.

It turns out the government is also searching for Laputa. They decide Sheeta and her crystal is the key to discover the floating city. Muska reveals he knows Sheeta’s secret name and shows her a huge robot belived to have been created in Laputa and tells her unless she cooperates, Pazu will be harmed. She tells Pazu of her intentions to aid Muska and he is upset by her betrayal. On returning home, he finds Dola there and tells her about the Laputa mission and asks for help. Strangely, they accede to his request. Meanwhile Sheeta chants a spell that points to the floating city and reactivates the robot that ends up setting fire to the fortress. The robot rescues Sheeta before being destroyed by the airship commanded by Muska. Dola and Pazu arrive to free Sheeta from the burning fortress but her crystal is found by Muska who uses it to find the city. Dola and the other sky pirates pursue the airship intent on finding Laputa beforehand. During an intense discussion, Sheeta mentions a spell she has never used: the Spell of Destruction. Dola overhears the conversation through the intercom. After a battle with the airship, Dola and the pirates are separated from Pazu and Sheeta but they enter Laputa, which is devoid of any life except for a robot responsible for its flora and fauna and a giant tree.

It turns out Muska is the villain of the piece as he betrays everyone in the end but receives his just deserts. Pazu comes through for Sheeta in her moment of desperate need. Dola and her pirate band survive and are rewarded for their efforts. The remains of Laputa, despite being subject to the Spell of Destruction, survives and floats into orbit above the Earth. This animation had an interesting plot with the perceived bad guys being good and the perceived good guys being bad but I feel Miyazaki’s other works have more mass appeal.

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Marvellous Miyazaki : Part I

08/03/2011 at 3:37 PM (Art, Fairy Tales, Inspired, Movies) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been meaning to this for a while now but it was delayed because I was working on the Burwood Bulletin since it’s due to be published in September with three of my six writers off duty. In addition, I got some extra work shifts from my second job. So I actually had to undertake the job duties of a journalist in addition to editing. When I return home, nothing seems better than a good sleep.

It was tough to hit the ground running with this one but I really wanted to share so I’ve got my butt into gear. These films meant so much to me even if they were animated and either dubbed in English or subtitled. What I am talking about are cinematic creations by Hayao Miyazaki.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle Movie Image

The first Miyazaki film I watched was Howl’s Moving Castle. Based very loosely on a book by Dianna Wynne Jones, the story is about the adventure of a young girl, Sophie Hatter, who is cursed with an old woman’s body. To break the spell cast on her by the nasty Witch of Waste, she seeks the help of a handsome but terrifying wizard by the name of Howl. His residence is a home that moves. A fire demon in the home, Calcifer, makes a deal with her that he will release her from the spell if Sophie releases him from the contract he has with Howl. The catch is he is not allowed to tell her how she can bring this about. When the disreputable wizard starts to fall for Sophie’s genuine charms, the fun begins. The characters and creatures are crafted excellently although Miyazaki has shown more strength in his character development in other productions. The animation is stunning and we are treated to a moral tale by changes of physical appearance and of character, reducing its preachiness while managing to work well as a lesson. It’s not as bad as Roger Ebert imagines.

Spirited Away

Spirited Away Movie Image

The Oscar-winning Spirited Away is another mind-blowing movie by the “Japanese Disney”. Ten-year-old Chihiro, who is moving away with her parents to a new neighborhood, is upset about leaving her old friends and school behind. Her father’s attempt to take a shortcut to their new town leads the family to an abandoned theme park where they find an unattended food stall fully laid out. Her parents dig in but Chihiro is uneasy and frightened. She encounters a spirit called Haku who warns her that she and her family have to leave before nightfall. But when she runs back to alert her parents, they’ve turned into pigs. It turns out she is stuck in a spirit world. So with the assistance of Haku, she gains a job at the bathhouse run by the witch Yubaba. She’s renamed by the witch as Sen and learns if she does not hide her true identity, she’ll lose her sense of self forever.  While she is whiny at the start of the movie, the responsibility she is saddled with develops her as a character. She begins learning how to deal with difficulties and becomes a stronger person because of her trials. After her parents turn into pigs, she’s scared and lost, but by the end of her journey in this fantasy spirit world, she is confident and strong. The film is rich in cultural symbolism and was vastly popular with the Japanese audience. It didn’t do too badly in the western world either as Disney took it on board but it did lose some significance in the transition…unfortunately.

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke poster

I’ve also watched Princess Mononoke, which could be considered an animated fantasy Japanese period drama. A young warrior by the name of Ashitaka is stricken by a deadly curse when he’s protecting his village from a rampaging boar-demon. To seek a cure, he goes to the forests in the west where he finds himself mixed up in a war humans are waging against the forest. The Lady Eboshi and her clan who live in a sacred area use their guns against the forests gods and a young woman, Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf-god.  The young warrior sees both sides are good people and the war is unnecessary and does his best to intervene. The groups each begin to think he is working for the enemy while he tries to convince them there are no sides. While this maybe an animated film, it is the adults who will gain more to learn from it. Besides the fact this is mostly hand-drawn makes it a major achievement.

The Cat Returns

The Cat Returns

A young girl called Haru saves a cat from traffic. She starts receiving gifts and favours from the King of Cats that she does not want for saving him. He wants her to marry his son, the Cat Prince Lune. Her rescue of the cat forces her to involuntarily become engaged to the cat prince in a magical kingdom.  She finds the assistance of a real but grouchy cat and an elegant cat statuette that has come to life. These two cats also made a cameo in Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart. They help her to find the way to escape from the cat kingdom. This is a more relaxing and fantasy oriented film with that can be enjoyed in its own right as a splendid example of animation.

Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart Image

Whisper of the Heart is an animation so sweet that it tugs at the heartstrings. The plot is about a budding teenage romance but this constantly explored theme is given a new veneer as it avoids typical stereotyping. This screenplay was written by Miyazaki but it’s direction was undertaken by another talented man, Yoshifumi Kondo, who died of an aneurysm in the following year. We meet the girl, Shizuku, who regularly checks out books from the library. To her annoyance, someone else is checking out the same books. Later she coincidentally meets the culprit to blame, a boy. He finds a song she’s writing for graduation and tell her the lyrics are corny. Pissed off, she leaves to bump into him again after following a curious cat. Seiji turns out to be the grandson of a violin maker and he himself wants to develop his skill in that art in Italy. When she hears him play, she is entranced and inspired to pursue big dreams of her own by writing a book in the midst of their budding affection for each other. She feels as she is uncertain of the future she wants and he has big plans, they might not suit each other. You’ll see a different ending if you watch the American version but I watched a fan dub and was not displeased with the future marriage possibility discussion by the two adolescents. There is a manga that uses this title but it is not possible to say the print and film versions are the same story.


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